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A Lesson on Apology for Soldiers and Diplomats - Recommendations and Conclusion
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A Lesson on Apology for Soldiers and Diplomats
Religious Context Driven Differences
Recommendations and Conclusion
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When American entities take responsibility for tragic events and negative circumstances in cultures with Muslim majorities, they undermine potential for reconciliation. In fact, the more that Americans underscore their sorrow and regret for these events and circumstances in attempting to foster sympathy and achieve good-will, the more they undercut their ability to reconcile with the people that they are offending.


It's exactly the opposite of expectations for the form of apology that's primary in America. The admission of guilt and responsibility just serves to vindicate the aggrieved parties in their hostility. Forgiveness for transparently admitting guilt follows when entities are already in trusting relationships. When trusting relationships do not exist, that kind of transparency simply enhances justification for hostility.

Instead of expressing regret and thereby taking some measure of responsibility for everything from the Crusades to enhanced interrogations, American entities should request forgiveness – not for the perceived offenses, but for generic inadequacy. They should use words like, "If there's anything that we've done to offend you, please forgive us." This language transfers the initiative and responsibility for the relationship to the party that perceives itself to be offended without adding to their excuses for nursing bitterness. American aid for relief and development should then be offered not as restitution for American offenses, but as restitution for damage done by uncontrollable parties and circumstances. Accepting the aid becomes an admission that uncontrollable forces are to blame, that generic forgiveness is being offered, and that relationship is being established.

Cultures have forms, functions, and meanings. Apologizing is a universal function, accomplished with different forms having different meanings in different cultures. Based upon their social context and religious heritage, Americans prefer a form of apology that emphasizes responsibility while minimizing dignity. Based upon a different context and heritage, many other cultures prefer a form of apology that maximizes dignity while minimizing responsibility.

Apologizing to people in one culture in the unfamiliar foreign form of another compounds misunderstanding and hostility over the original offense. American diplomatic and stability force entities habitually aggravate hostility and misunderstanding by apologizing in the form most familiar to them rather than in the form familiar to their audience. To facilitate global peace and security, American entities in cross-cultural relationships need to understand and accommodate forms for apology that are unfamiliar to them.

About the author: Bruce Sidebotham spent seven years doing cross-cultural ministry in Indonesia. He is the son of a Navy Chaplain. He is a Geologist, a Civil Engineer, and a former officer in the Army Corps of Engineers. He has a Master’s degree in Intercultural Studies and Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) from Columbia International University, and a Doctor of Ministry degree from New Geneva Theological Seminary.
Bruce and his wife, Lynn, have raised four boys. Their youngest son was born in Indonesia. As a chaplain (major) in the U.S. Army Reserves, Bruce spent a year in Iraq (2008-09). Bruce directs Operation Reveille, a ministry that helps service personnel with cross-cultural relations. Contact information: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


1. Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas, The Five Languages of Apology: How to Experience Healing in All Your Relationships (Chicago: Northfield Publishing, 2006) p. 24.
2. Ibid., p. 105.

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Last Updated on Tuesday, 02 April 2013 15:36